Design Center Origins

In 1968, executive director of the National Urban League, Whitney M. Young, Jr., delivered a speech that continues to challenge The American Institute of Architects, every design professional, and America’s belief in itself as a just society. As head of the National Urban League, Young insisted that nationwide organizations of professionals could make a positive difference in the lives of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Read Young’s groundbreaking speech (here) with links to other documents on the emergence of the community design practice. It will take time to read this bit of history is enormously important. It resulted in a policy framework written by the AIA described below. The quality of intentional action is reminiscent of the NFL Rooney Rule (here).

The following is a lightly edited AIA policy statement supporting the Community Design Practice, dated 1982. Unfortunately, the Report has no other record of an update if there is (contact). Thanks.

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The AIA’s comprehensive presentation of public policies is presented in a three-year cycle and published annually in the Directory of Public Policies. The last review of this policy by the Board of Directors on the record was in September 1982 as follows:

Policy Statement

The AIA supports Community Design Centers and encourages members and components to do community service using Community Design Centers as a vehicle.

Statement of Issue and Background

The AIA’s formal involvement and policy on community design centers (CDCs) was an outgrowth of the 1968 convention resolution supporting CDCs and establishing the Task Force on Professional Responsibility to Society. One of the task force programs approved and funded by the AIA Board was to assist CDCs and encourage the creation of new centers. The AIA program of assistance to CDCs involved the creation of the community services department within the AIA, which provided support and assistance for CDC activities. The community service department produced a series of CDC bulletins, newsletters, a national CDC directory, a CDC national conference, regional and national seminars, support for an organization of design centers, legislative efforts and proposals for funding design centers, and information on design center activities addressed to components and the public. Since 1969, the AIA responsibility for CDC concerns has been passed on to several committees due to various changes and reorganizations of the AIA structure and programs. For example, in 1980, the Community Assistance Committee, which represented the AIA’s CDC concerns, was incorporated into the Urban Planning and Design Committee.

There are active CDCs. Over half have the direct involvement of local AIA chapters and function on the basis of “goodwill” that can be listed as an asset on a balance sheet, income statement. Of this group, most are related to schools of architecture, including landscape services.

The 1974 Community Services Act included sections 226 and 232, which provided financial aid for community-based design and planning organizations. (Note: This act is no longer in force as of September 30, 1981.) Here is a time saver for interest in precedent: A digital text is not available. Print format documents may be available at a federal depository library or contact us for assistance. With an increased federal emphasis on private sector responsibility and support for programs for the poor, it is now more critical for the design profession to support CDCs.

The AIA’s policy in supporting community design centers was reaffirmed successively in 1973 and 1977. In addition, the AIA has supported CDCs as a community ombudsman in the AIA National Policy Taskforce reports and testimony on the Livable Cities Act of 1978.

AIA Rationale of Examination and Proposal

The AIA commitment to support CDCs is based on:

  1. The continuing inequity in the availability of design and planning expertise to low-income groups:
  2. The record of CDCs in making it possible for community organizations across the country to rehabilitate housing and community facilities, generate new construction, initiate historic preservation and urban design programs, and in other ways improve the quality of the built environment;
  3. The establishment of linkages with many public and private agencies and neighborhood organizations will demonstrate the architectural profession’s dedication to community service.
  4. The assistance that CDCs will aid the AIA in formulating recommendations for national policy concerning low-income persons and the quality of their lives;
  5. The opportunity for members of the AIA, architecture schools, and components to provide a needed community service, and
  6. the provision of intern and service-learning opportunities for entry-level architects, students, and recent graduates of architecture schools to develop and improve professional skills while providing community assistance.

50 Years Later

Notice the position taken above and (here). In the AIA video, the subtle suggestion is, “if architects chose to so” at that level. That is the only “forever” part that remains, despite Resolution 10 that set in motion the creation of a national scholarship program for members of disadvantaged minority groups for the study of architecture.” Valid, a few thousand scholarships have been awarded to diverse young people seeking a career in architecture. And, despite Resolution 13 explicitly referring to Young’s speech and calling on architects to “take a positive stand and become personally involved in the issues of our day,” that is the fifty-year story. There is that NFL type of “at that level” pat on the back. Yet, on the other hand, we see an injection of diversity into the profession as a reminder of what Young said so forcefully.

All of this demands a more robust look at the institutional framework of ACD’s network, Structures for Inclusion’s programs, Theory of Change practices in general, and social change certification ideas such as SEED and others. These “at that level” organizations represent activists among a few others that have chosen to remain in the field as unusual exceptions. The demand for basic improvements on the path to social justice that an architect can produce remains largely unmet.

Upon closer examination, The Report believes the intentional effort is to subsidize private architectural practices without clear criteria regarding the benefits shared with the nonprofit design practice and the community.